Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I.F. Stone on Russia, America, and the American Press

Kate G. writes to recommend the new I.F. Stone biography by Myra McPherson, All Governments Lie--thus adding one more to the pile of books to be read. I have been slowly working my way through The Best of I.F. Stone.

I.F. Stone on the Soviet Union, in 1956:

I have to say what I really feel after seeing the Soviet Union and studying the statements of its leading officials. This is not a good society and it is not led by honest men.

No society is good in which men fear to think--much less speak--freely. I don't care how many tons of steel the Russians produce.... This society is a paradise only for a rather stupid type of Communist party member.... If you believe everything you read in the papers, lack imagination, and feel no need to think for yourself, you can be happy in the Soviet Union. Or you can shut yourself up in a scientific laboratory and work on your own scientific problems and close your eyes and ears to what is going on outside or maybe even to your unlucky colleague next door....

The London Daily Worker seemed like a bright, newsy, real newspaper after the Soviet press.... Whatever the shortcomings of the Western press, there is no comparison between it and the Soviet press....

[T]he present leaders of the Soviet Union are dishonest... with their own people.... If they want to make a clean break with the Stalinist past, they can best demonstrate it by telling their people what they are doing and why.... No one outside a very small circle at the top really knows why Beria was executed.... Only persons rendered permanently idiotic by complete submergence in party-line literature will take at face value the charge that he was a British or imperialist agent. This is how Stalin operated... first slander and then the firing squad were his answers. And everybody turned out to be a foreign agent!...

To blame the evils of Stalinism on Stalin is obviously inadequate.... Stalinism was the natural fruit of the whole spirit of the Communist movement. The wanton executions, the frame-ups, the unjust convictions and exiles--these would not have been possible except in a movement whose members had been taught not only to obey unquestionably but to hate.... This was the spirit the Communist movement bred. Stalin embodied that spirit. To change it one must do more than hang Stalin in effigy, or defame him in self-serving panic as Khrushchev is doing.

The more one studies Russian hisotry the more one sees how deep were the roots of Leninism in Russian radical thinking of the nineteenth century.... [S]ocialism in Russia is there to stay.... Russian industrialization, despite Russian solvenliness and that callous waste of men and manpower one feels in Russia, has advanced on giant boots, thanks to economic planning.... Khruschev... shows that [denunciations of the system] are not figments of hostile propaganda. ("Multiply all you have read abroad by ten," a Communist told me, "and you will get the dimensions of Khrushchev's revelations about Stalin")... How is a repetition of these terrible evils to be avoided. How indeed are they to be wholly eliminated? It is in seeknig the answer to these questions that I found Russia and its leaders most disappointing....

The speeches of the new leaders are wholly inadequate to the correction of the evils.... So long as there is only one party, and it has a monopoly of government and controls all expression, there cannot be freedom. Russia is strong enough, secure enough.... Their society is stable enough for stable politics. The kind of one-party rule which may have been necessary to achieve the Revolution has become a positive hindrance; this is the real lesson of the revelations about Stalin....

[T]he ferment that began with Stalin's death... events whose momentum [the oligarchs] may not be able to control... opened Russia's windows on the West... given us a chance to resume contact with this huge and wonderful segment of humanity....[W]e ought to strive to keep the windows open, and to help along the process which may someday carry Russia forward... to freer institutions. I believe not only her people but her rulers want peace; and I believe that given peace they will slowly liquidate Russia's terrible backwardness and unholy past.

But this process will not be helped by indulging in delusions, or by quickly forgiving and forgetting Stalinism.... [W]e will not help the russian people by letting this crowd of leaders soft-soap us.... Nor will we help ourselves, and our power to fight for a better world and a better society, by joining hands with the poor deluded house-broken Communist parties of the West. They remain Russian puppets; they will jump back through the hoops as soon as they get new orders. Their members cannot be freed from intellectual bondage until the parties themselves have disintegrated...

I.F. Stone on the United States, 1954:

If there is indeed a monstrous and diabolic conspiracy against world peace and stability, then isn't McCarthy right? If "subversives" are at work like termites... are they not likely to be found in the most unlikely places and under the most unlikely disguises?... To doubt the power of the devil... is... to incur suspicion of being oneself in league with the powers of evil. So all the fighters against McCarthyism are impelled to adopt its premises. This was true even of the [Adlai] Stevenson speech, but was strikingly so of [anti-McCarthy Senator] Flanders [R-VT]. The country is in a bad way when as feeble and hysterical a speech is hailed as an attack on McCarthyism. Flanders... spoke of Italy as "ready to fall into Communist hands," of Britain "nibbling at the drugged bait of trade profits." There are passages of sheer fantasy.... "In Latin America... there are sturdy strong points of freedom... [and] spreading infections of Communism. Whole countries are being taken over..." What "whole countries"? And what "sturdy strong points of freedom"?... Flanders told the Senate, "We will be left with no place to trade and no place to go except as we are permitted to trade and to go by the Communist masters of the world."

The center of gravity in American politics has been pushed so far right that such childish nightmares are welcomed as the expression of liberal statesmanship. Nixon becomes a middle-of-the-road spokesman.... Ther are some charges which must be laughed off or brushed off. They cannot be disproved. If a man charges that he saw Eisenhower riding a broomstick over the White House, he will never be convinced to the contrary by sworn evidence that the President was in bed reading a Western....

Nowhere in American politics is there evidence of any important figure (even Stevenson) prepared to talk in sober, mature, and realistic terms of the real problems which arise in a real world where national rivalrise, mass aspirations, and ideas clash as naturally as waves of the sea. The premises of free society and of liberalism find no one to voice them, yet McCarthyisms will not be ended until someone has the nerve to make this kind of fundamental attack on it...

And I.F. Stone on the American press corps, from 1963:

In the worst days of the witch hunt and the cold war, I felt like a guerilla warrior, swooping down in surprise attack.... The reporter assigned to specific beat... soon finds himself a captive.... There are many ways to punish a reporter who gets out of liine... the press office may neglect to notify him while his rivals get the story.... There are many ways to flatter... off-the-record dinners with high officials... service clubs. Reporters tend to be absorbed by the bureaucracies they cover.... Should a reporter resist the pressure, there are many ways to get rid of him. If his publisher is not particulary astute or independent, a little private talk, a hint that the reporter seems irresponsible--even a bit radical--"sometimes one could even mistake him for a Marxist"--will do the job....

But a reporter covering the whole capital... particulary if he is his own employer... is immune.... Washington is full of news.... One can always ask questions...

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